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DREAM Act students to speak

Tania Unzeuta and other Chicago-area undocumented youth who were arrested last week in civil disobedience at the U.S. Capitol building, demanding action on the DREAM Act, will speak about the action, their experiences, and what’s next for the immigrant rights movement, at a press conference at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 27, at Plaza Tenochtitlan (18th, Loomis, and Blue Island.)

The protest was the second time undocumented youth have risked deportation to pressure legislators – focusing on DREAM Act supporters – to move the bill.

More on Tania here; more on last week’s action – including the reaction of Senator Richard Durbin, chief sponsor of the DREAM Act – here; also see coverage at Chicanisima.

Aldermen targeted on clean power

With next year’s elections looming, national officers of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace are coming to town to announce additional organizational resources for a ward-by-ward drive to win aldermanic support for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

They’ll join representatives from nearly 50 environmental and civic groups in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition at a media event tomorrow (Thursday, July 15) at 11 a.m. at Dvorak Park, 1119 W. Cullerton.

The park is nearby Midwest Generation’s Fisk plant, one of two coal-fired power plants in the city that would be required to install modern pollution controls under the ordinance.  The two plants are held responsible for asthma and other health problems causing scores of deaths and hundreds of emergency room visits every year.

The ward-level, citywide campaign will include a focus on Aldermen Danny Solis (25th ward) and Rick Munoz (22nd ward), who represent Pilsen and Little Village, where the Fisk and Crawford plants are located.  To date, nine aldermen have joined sponsor Ald. Joe Moore (49th) in backing the ordinance; Solis and Munoz have yet to do so.

While the company has said it is reducing harmful emissions from the plants, Becki Clayborn of the Sierra Club’s Illinois  Beyond Coal Campaign pointed out that the US EPA and Illinois Attorney General brought them to court earlier this year because they are failing to meet current standards for emissions.  The plants have been charged with thousands of violations of opacity standards.

In 2006 the state negotiated a deal allowing the plants to continue operating but requiring them to meet modern emissions standards — starting in 2015.  Because they predate the Clean Air Act of 1977, they are exempt from its toughest standards.

Commonwealth Edison recently told Crain’s Chicago Business that within the next few years, the loss of either Fisk or Crawford “would create an unacceptable degredation of reliability in downtown Chicago.”

Clayborn is skeptical.  “We think that’s just speculation,” she saqid.  “We know [Fisk and Crawford] are only operating at 30 percent capacity on average, so they’re not creating that much power.”

They are creating about 5 million tons of carbon emissions yearly – the equivalent of 875,000 automobiles, according to the coalition.

“Burning coal to generate electrictity harms human health and compounds many of the major public health problems facing the industrialized world,” according to a recent report from Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report traces detrimental health effects from every phase of the coal power business – from mining to disposal of post-combustion wastes.  Coal power production contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory disease.

Foreclosure prevention in Pilsen

The Resurrection Project will host a home rescue fair Saturday, May 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 2150 S. Laflin.

It’s the third such event sponsored by TRP since joining a nationwide effort, the Alliance for Stabilizing Our Communities, a year ago.  Their previous fairs have drawn as many as 600 homeowners, and TRP expects that many if not more tomorrow, say Kristen Komara.

Six lenders will be present, along with housing counselors from local nonprofits and representatives of the IRS, HUD, Illinois Attorney General, and legal services.

With the participation of lenders, the fair is a way to speed up what can be a drawn-out process, Komara said.

“Sometimes it takes weeks before lenders even give their representatives authorization to talk to us” about a particular case, and “we often spend three to eight months waiting for a response to an application for a modification,” Komara said.  In that time the bank may repeatedly ask homeowners to resubmit documentation for their applications.

Komara said the numbers of homeowners needing help “has not subsided at all” in the past year, though fewer are coming in with exotic and abusive mortgages and more due to job loss.

“Lenders are still not prepared to deal with the large numbers of people coming for modifications,” she said.  And federal foreclosure prevention efforts have yet to be effective.

She said lenders often turn down requests for modifications because they calculate that they can minimize their losses by foreclosing and selling the property – but often those calculations are wrong. “Homes are not going for the value they think they are,” she said.

“We’re saying, why not make the mortgage affordable and give the homeowner an opportunity to keep paying you.”

The Alliance for Stabilizing Our Communities was created by the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League, and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific Americans Community Development, with support from Bank of America.

Participating lenders have sent letters about the event to every delinquent homeowner in the Chicagoland area, and TRP did outreach through churches, schools, and radio.

New architecture tours

The Chicago Architecture Foundation – which sponsors 85 different architecture tours, by bus, train, river boat, and foot – has announced several new neighborhood tours.

New tours highlight the eclectic architecture and Victorian mansions of Wicker Park; the cultural influences of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Mexico in Pilsen; and the beautiful mansions of Beverly, a landmark district, now presented in a two-part walking tour (here’s the schedule for part two).

There’s a revamped walking architectural tour of Lincoln Park Zoo, a new one-hour lunchtime tour of Symphony Center, and plans for a tour of the Loop on the L. CAF’s river cruise tour begins May 1; tickets are on sale now.

Census ambassadors hit the streets

There can be a lot of apprehension about the Census, especially in immigrant communities – and many folks may not know that it’s used to decide how to allocate resources; more population often means more federal dollars.

Logan Square residents, including parent mentors at neighborhood schools, will get a short training and then hit the streets as neighbor-to-neighbor ambassadors, in an event sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  It starts ata 10 a.m. on Friday, Feburary 5, at Funston Elementary School, 2010 N. Central Park.


On Saturday, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will launch a large-scale door-to-door effort to reach out to Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Polish and Arab communities to ensure that immigrants are counted in Census 2010.

Immigrants may unnecessarily fear legal sanctions here, and mistrust may also result from census methods used in their homelands, but there are over $400 billion in federal funds allocated to schools, clinics, libraries, and other many services based on the count, according to ICIRR.

Elected officials will join leaders of ICIRR, Chinese American Service League, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Institute, and LSNA, among others, to kick off the campaign on Saturday, February 6, at 10:30 a.m. at Casa Moreles, 2015 S. Morgan.

Yollocalli at the White House

Young artists and staff from the Yollocalli Arts Reach program of Pilsen were at the White House on Thursday to receive the Coming Up Taller Award, granted by the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to recognize outstanding community youth arts programs.

An initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art, Yollocalli has lots of interesting programs — and the 2009 award makes NMMA the only organization to sponsor two CUT winners.  Radio Arte won the award in 2003..

Meanwhile, also in Washington, NMMA’s exhibit on The African Presence in Mexico opens November 9 at the Smithsonian Institute.

From Pilsen to Copenhagen

Long scored for serious health impacts on residents of Pilsen and Little Village, Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants have also emerged as the city’s most prominent sources of carbon emissions and climate change.

On Saturday, Octobert 24 at 1 p.m., as part of a worldwide day of action on climate change, local groups will march on the Fisk power plant, 1111 W. Cermak, one of two plants operated by Midwest Generation in Chicago.

As President Obama prepares for a major international climate conference in Copenhagen next month, “We want him to see that people are marching in the streets of his home town asking for him to be a leader in the fight against climate change,” said Nicole Granacki of Greenpeace.

More at Newstips.

Pilsen charter school move challenged

The sudden news that CPS plans to relocate a politically-connected charter school to the building of a recently-closed neighborhood school in Pilsen has once again raised concerns over lack of accountability for school facilities decisions — and over charter schools getting resources that are denied to neighborhood schools.

The Pilsen Alliance, which works with parents in neighborhood schools, is mobilizing residents for a CPS hearing tonight, at 6 p.m. at St. Augustin College, 2610 W. 25th Place. Alliance director Alejandra Ibanez said they learned of the hearing only two days ago. She said residents will also speak out at next week’s school board meeting, where a decision is expected.

The board will consider an “emergency request” from the Octavio Paz campus of the United Neighborhood Organization Charter School to move temporarily into the building of the De La Cruz Middle School, which closed in June, according to a letter from board president Michael Scott provided by Ibanez.

De La Cruz was closed after being tagged “underutilized” although it had the largest special education student population in the neighborhood, Ibanez said. (Special education classes are limited in size by state law.) Last year De La Cruz won a Spotlight Award from the Illinois State Board of Education for educational success with low-income students.

“That’s the kind of school that should be a model for neighborhood schools,” particularly with its success with low-income, English-learning, and special needs students, Ibanez said.

Scott’s letter notes that De La Cruz was closed partly due to extensive repairs needed there, and says “some minor construction work” will be needed to accommodate the UNO charter school.

Ibanez asks why CPS would invest in the building if it’s really slated for demolition — and whether it will end up being a permanent home to the UNO charter. She also cites reports from former De La Cruz teachers that work was being done on the building as early as last June.

The repair of the De La Cruz building has another dimension. With the closing of the middle school in June, its feeder school, nearby Whittier Elementary, added grades 7 and 8. That’s the school where Pilsen Alliance has worked on a parent leadership project for several years, winning lead and asbestos abatement as well as community school designation and programming.

But the parents’ main focus for seven years has been an expansion of the school building in order to make the 100-year-old buildling ADA compliant and add a library, cafeteria, gymnasium, and parent meeting room — and now 7th and 8th grade classrooms. At Whittier, kids eat lunch on folding tables in the hallway, Ibanez said.

In contrast, when UNO opened the Bartolome de las Casas charter campus on West 16th in 2006, they got a new roof and ADA upgrades within weeks, she said.

De La Cruz and Whittier “are neighborhood schools that could be models” for mobilizing parents and communities to support schools that succeed in teaching inner-city kids, “but they don’t get the investment,” Ibanez said. “UNO gets the red carpet and a blank check.”

A new law passed this year over CPS opposition could end up limiting the district’s ability to make arbitrary facilities decisions, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

“Decisions about where schools get built and which schools get repairs and which are closed” are “extemely inconsistent,” he said. A general school facilities plan — the goal of Rep. Cynthia Soto’s Chicago School Facilities bill — could “set procedures and standards for these kinds of decisions,” he said.

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